AIRBUS, European aerospace giant, is poised to take advantage of the digital revolution. Following a trip by the group’s management to Californian tech companies, Airbus has opted to create a “home base” in booming Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is famous for being the petri dish of technological innovation: everything from the Facebook to the Stanford Linear Accelerator can be found in this northern California enclave. It makes sense that Airbus would choose to create a center in area rife with innovation.
Airbus’ Move to Silicon Valley
The group is working with ex-Google executive in an effort to remain relevant in today’s ever-changing aerospace industry. Under the direction of Tim Dombrowski, a former partner at technology powerhouse Andreesen Horowitz, a 150million Euro venture capital fund was launched in May of this year. Dombrowski specializes in technology strategies and their adaptations to a mega-business environment—something Airbus undoubtedly needs as it moves into previously unchartered territory.
These funds will be used to finance, among other things, the “Airbus Group Silicon Valley Business Innovation Center”, which is the name for Airbus’ future center. Not only will this center serve as a workspace, but it will serve as a capacity building learning center for Airbus employees. In order to keep up in a fiercely competitive market, Airbus needs its employees to grow their technological expertise through theoretical and hands-on learning. This center will be headed by Paul Eremenko, who was the previous director of Google’s secretive Advanced Technology and Projects organisation, and previously worked for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency technology think tank.
Humans and Robots
The future is well and truly here in Airbus’ futuristic factory: in June of this year, the company publically presented its vision for plane manufacturing, in which robots, humans and collaborate robots (cobots) will work side-by-side to build planes cheaply. In June, Airbus also presented its factory of the future to the public in which robots, humans and cobots (collaborative robots) will join forces to build planes cheaply. This futuristic manufacturing plant should be operational in 2025.
Drone Technology: A New Field for Airbus
According to the management of Airbus, it’s high time to form close working relationships with specialised technology companies—particularly those involved in the development of drones. Airbus is counting on its California center to break into the field of drone development, and to learn how to better equip European helicopters.
On 17 June, Airbus announced that it was commencing with the design phase of the X6 helicopter for gas and oil industries. Able to accommodate up to 19 passengers, the X6 will be operated from an electrical console on-the-ground. This will be the first helicopter to so closely fuse drone and helicopter technology.
Stepping Up to the Plate: Can Airbus Compete with Boeing?
Boeing, Airbus’ direct US rival, has set the bar high in terms of drone technology department: the American company has just patented a drone that can literally fly forever. An automated charging system on the ground allows the drone to connect to a power source by cable. This innovation means that drones can now be autonomous, which was a major obstacle to their every-day-use. Airbus will certainly have to draw upon all of its creative energies to remain relevant in the shadow of Boeing.
Based in Toulouse for forty years, Airbus started from an image of modernity when it created the world’s first widebody twin-aisle commercial airliner in 1972. In its day, this plane was the largest commercial plane in the sky. It will be a true challenge to see if Airbus can dust off its reputation and re-emerge as a creative, dynamic and innovative aerospace company.
Moving Towards Distant Horizons
Airbus’ strengths lie in their inventiveness, flexibility and dedication. The group is one of the most successful in the European industry—in 2014, its turnover amounted to 60.7 billion Euros. Employing 54,000 people in France alone (little more than a third of their workforce), Airbus is entrenched in European identity. Determined to push into new markets, the group is aiming to conquer Chinese and Indian markets. Incredibly, an Airbus takes off or lands every 3.5 seconds of every day, indicating that they are an immovable player in the global aerospace industry.
It is competition between companies that fuels advancement: without Boeing, Airbus would have no major competitor or, perhaps, no reason to break into drone development. Hopefully the climate of fierce competition in Silicon Valley energizes Airbus from within—the future is waiting.